Meat/Poultry Inspection

USDA Attack On Washington Post’s Pork Safety Reporting Raises Its Own Questions

Misleading “Condemnation” Calls into Question Agency Leadership’s Commitment to Good Faith Policy Debate

Washington D.C. — Members of the Safe Food Coalition expressed concern today regarding the USDA’s “condemnation” of a recent Washington Post report on the agency’s proposed swine slaughter modernization rule. The Coalition is issuing the following statement:

“The Safe Food Coalition is deeply disappointed in the unsigned statement issued today by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) Office of Congressional and Public Affairs, which viciously attacks the Washington Post for its critical reporting highlighting problems with the agency’s proposed rule on swine slaughter inspection. The statement purports to rebut the Washington Post’s reporting. In fact it merely confirms the truth of the Post’s story and offers additional context in the form of ‘alternative facts’ in an effort to spin the news in favor of the agency’s position.

Rather than grapple with the serious food safety and worker health concerns raised by the Washington Post’s article, the USDA attempts to mislead readers using word play. In particular, the agency claims that the Washington Post’s reporting is ‘false’ because the agency is not giving industry more power over meat inspections. The swine slaughter inspection modernization rule very clearly transfers so-called ‘quality assurance tasks’ that were once performed by USDA inspectors to slaughterhouse employees. The USDA’s statement appears to reason that, since the transferred duties will no longer be called ‘inspection,’ there has been no transfer of power over inspection. This is a misrepresentation.

Similarly, USDA asserts in its statement that “FSIS is not reducing the total number of federal inspectors by 40 percent” but rather making personnel decisions on a “case-by-case” basis. However, USDA’s proposed rule clearly envisions that “the Agency would require 147 fewer [full time equivalent positions] for swine slaughter inspection,” i.e. a 40% reduction in the relevant inspection workforce, if the proposed rule is implemented as planned.

USDA’s statement is at odds with FSIS’s long-standing public health commitment. Its timing, with Dr. Mindy M. Brashears having recently assumed her new position as the USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Food Safety, calls into question the agency leadership’s commitment to a good faith policy debate. Consumers cannot put their trust in a food safety regulatory agency that fails to engage openly and honestly with legitimate public criticism.”

The Safe Food Coalition is made up of consumer, public health and victim groups who work on issues related to food, and organizations representing labor in the food industry.

Contact: Thomas Gremillion, 202-939-1010